Liberty Lake is putting itself on the corporate radar screen. After the recession wiped out 2,700 high-tech jobs inside the city, the business-savvy government started promoting the area to outside companies.
Officials touted the trained work force, played up the parklike business campuses and mentioned perks like paved trails for employees who live in the city and want to commute by bicycle.
Their efforts are paying off. In the past two years, a handful of companies has set up shop in the city. The businesses offer everything from fiber-optic cable to engineering services.
Huntwood Industries is building a 530,000-square-foot cabinet manufacturing center that will employ about 700 people. The company expects to transfer operations from its current location in Spokane Valley Industrial Park in the spring of 2005.
Isothermal Systems Research, which manufactures cooling systems for electronics, and Liberty Lake Internet Exchange, which offers Internet hook-up services, Web site hosting and other computer services, are two more additions to the high-tech line-up.
“We’re seeing an increase in growth for the number of jobs,” said Doug Smith, planning director for Liberty Lake. “In the past three years, we’ve had a tremendous growth in small businesses and at least nine businesses with at least 25 employees have moved into the city.”
Liberty Lake officials started inventorying jobs one year ago and found that the city has a daytime work population of 4,500 workers.
Rich Hadley, president of the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the city works hard at establishing relationships to create a healthy business base.
“I think they have distinguished themselves as being very open and welcoming to new businesses,” Hadley said. “I think they are very creative. They’ve hosted economic development forums and workplace forums out there.”
Bob Schwartz, professor and chair of the Eastern Washington University Center for Entrepreneurial Activities, believes that Liberty Lake has a winning combination for attracting companies.
“They have a tremendous work force there. They’ve got the space and they’ve got the place and they’ve got a gorgeous community,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz helped the city develop a strategy for building sustainable jobs and incubating new businesses.
The city’s goal is to create a network of diverse businesses to help avoid the eggs-in-one basket scenario that created chaos when dot-coms and high-tech manufacturing hit the skids.
A partnership between the city and developer Jim Frank, who owns Liberty Square, the office complex that houses city hall, resulted in an incubator that opened recently to help small businesses get started.
Six small suites on the lower floor of Liberty Square were finished for fledgling businesses to borrow rent-free, paying just a small fee for utilities. A resource center will connect entrepreneurs with online business resources.
Smith said applicants for the spaces must have viable business plans that are approved by a committee.
“If they can show they’re making a go of it, they get an extended lease for another year,” Smith said.
Part of the city’s plan for creating jobs includes forging partnerships with area businesses, organizations and higher education.
Like most cities, Liberty Lake faces challenges in maneuvering through a tough economy.
Schwartz said large corporations with money tend to spur growth. However, he said, 100 small businesses adding 10 employees each create 1,000 jobs and the promise of future growth.
The community has assets that are a draw for small businesses, Hadley explained. He also pointed out that the area’s marriage of natural resources and industry would be a nice fit for companies that specialize in environmental technology.
“Liberty Lake is fortunate in that it has several large businesses as anchors, so it’s attractive for small businesses to locate there,” Hadley said.
Brian Abrams recently purchased the old Land Rover building in Liberty Lake for his 85-employee clothing manufacturing business.
Adventure Tech and Integral Designs creates high-tech apparel that protects outdoor enthusiasts and soldiers from extremes in heat and cold.
When the remodel and expansion is completed, the company will have an impressive showroom with an indoor waterfall and displays that simulate outdoor regions where the company’s clothing is frequently used.
Abrams likes the progressiveness of the small city and found it easy to set up meetings with officials. His new building will offer proximity to other high-tech industry and give his company a corporate presence when clients examine products and make purchasing decisions.
“It’s really sort of the corporate center of Spokane,” Abrams said. “I think that’s a pretty solid investment.”
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